How to Talk About Suicide with Your Teen

As we engage the community as a whole in conversations about Health, Safety, and Well-Being, we must also consider important individual conversations we need to have with our teens. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the benefit of knowing about the specific issues that put teens at risk. When it comes to suicide, you cannot delay the conversation while you wonder if your teen is thinking about it. According to the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24.

The statistics locally are just as alarming. In Duval County, 20% of the surveyed teens reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months according to the CDC’s High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2017). That’s one out of every five teens. While Episcopal students did not complete the survey, does the need for the conversation change? Do recent events in our community still cause the same concern that they did one month ago? This is a conversation that is too important to allow time to erase our sense of urgency. Our children are too important. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide provides the following tips on how to begin this important conversation and encourage ongoing open communication:

If it isn’t prompted by something your kid is saying or doing that worries you, approach this topic in the same way as other subjects that are important to you, but may or may not be important to your child:

  • Timing is everything! Pick a time when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention. Sometimes a car ride, for example, assures you of a captive, attentive audience. Or a suicide that has received media attention can provide the perfect opportunity to bring up the topic.
  • Think about what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse a script if necessary. It always helps to have a reference point: (”I was reading in the paper that youth suicide has been increasing…” or “I saw that your school is having a program for teachers on suicide prevention.”)
  • If this is a hard subject for you to talk about, admit it! (”You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important”). By acknowledging your discomfort, you give your child permission to acknowledge his/her discomfort too.
  • Ask for your child’s response. Be direct! (”What do you think about suicide?”, “Is it something that any of your friends talk about?”, “Have you ever thought about it? What about your friends?”)
  • Listen to what your child has to say. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider your child’s answers. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that too. “What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”
  • Don’t overreact or under-react. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. Under-reacting, especially in relation to suicide, is often just a way to make ourselves feel better. ANY thoughts or talk of suicide (”I felt that way a while ago but don’t any more”) should ALWAYS be revisited. Remember that suicide is an attempt to solve a problem that seems impossible to solve in any other way. Ask about the problem that created the suicidal thoughts. This can make it easier to bring up again in the future (”I wanted to ask you again about the situation you were telling me about…”) (https://www.sptsusa.org/parents/talking-to-your-kid-about-suicide/)

If you still have questions or concerns about how to talk to your child about suicide or other self-harming behaviors, please reach out to Amy Perkins, Director of Student Services, at [email protected] or 904.396.5751, ext. 1347 for additional support.